16 May 2010

On the road ... Namibia's magic south

Oh dear, I badly neglected this blog. So much has happened since the previous post went online that I don't know where to start really. So I choose one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent months - a 5-day tour through the deep south of Namibia with two of my friends from Germany. Far too little time to visit every place worthwhile seeing but neither was this our first trip to the Karas Region nor do we expect it to be our last. The drives from and back to Windhoek through the Hardap Region will be ignored here, as we did not stop anywhere en route except for re-fuelling. If you are interested in learning more about both these southern regions of Namibia, please visit the links provided.

For our short trip, we selected only three major highlights connected by roads none of us had travelled before:
Fish River Canyon to Gariep River (previously known as Orange River), west along the river through the Namibian part of the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park to Sendelingsdrift, and via Rosh Pinah to Aus.
Since a few photos can better tell the story of what we experienced than any description, I hope you will enjoy the following selection as much as we enjoyed taking them.
(Please note: All rights reserved on images by the owner of www.namibia-unlimited.com)
Above: Fish River Canyon

Right: Gariep River Valley

Below: Klein-Aus Vista's Eagles Nest at the foot of the Aus Mountains

Right: A picture-perfect Namibian sunset complete with photogenic quiver trees

Below: The feral horses of the Namib Desert - southern Namib-Naukluft-Park, near Aus

Right: Only our presence prevented this visitor of Klein-Aus Vista to grab a quick meal of striped mouse ... a cute little creature as depicted in the photo at the page top of this blog. But I guess their breeding habits do need some control...

Below: Our farewell present on the way home - a herd of oryx antelope next to the road just north of Aus

And thus a few wonderful days came to an end.

Next time, we'll have to watch our timing to catch the Nama Karoo and the Succulent Karoo in full bloom. We only got a brief taste, just outside Rosh Pinah, of how beautiful they must look like when covered in a myriad of tiny bright-coloured flowers.

Until we meet again, take care.
P.S. Please kindly do respect my copyright on all images!

29 March 2008

Apropos Global Warming: Can you remember?

... and act on this?

While watching a recent National Geographic broadcast on the issue describing in detail what would happen, if the global climate would increase by 1, 2, 3, ..., 6 degrees, one particular point - apart from the frightening consequences for life on earth - hit home really badly:
If you, like me, grew up in post-war Germany and were between 15 and 25 years old, in the late 1960's/early 1970's, chances are that you too had strong doubts where the rapid economic growth around the western world during the previous decade would lead to. In spite of being critical of the great values suddenly placed on material riches, most of us did not adopt a flower-power-hippy lifestyle and did not retreat into the fake alternative worlds of happiness and enlightenment promised by drugs and gurus. Instead we used our well-trained intellects honed to be wary of anyone and anything that was sold to us as the "a new god" to keep our lives on an even keel and to avoid falling into the consume-consume-consume trap set up by the profit-hungry corporations.

Unfortunately, our parent generation, most of them deprived by the war of just about everything that is good about being young and carefree, did not understand when we warned about the long-term impact such shifts in society away from human values to material values would have on each and every area of life. They shook their heads in disgust when we by choice stuffed our first own homes with second-hand furniture and opted for a simple lifestyle, one that included only a few carefully selected frills and luxuries but lots of quality time spent with friends and families.
Our parents were yearning to make up for pleasures missed, for hardships endured, for wealth and well-being lost as children and teenagers, during those crazy war years - as adults they found a new zest for life and used everything within their reach to forget and to ensure that nothing like that would ever happen again. They believed that growing economic stability and prosperity for everyone were the answers to all their prayers - if they ever asked about the price to pay at all, the last thing they wanted to hear were their children's answers that disregarded the past they had not experienced and only looked to the future.

No, we did not manage to stop the run-away train of the commercial revolution; our calls for caution and staying aware of the global picture remained unheard; we watched in horror how blindness towards the damages done in the process developed on a global level. It left our generation powerless, turned our newly won order and rights to freely express our views into a farce, at least in one most important aspect - progress became the key to everything and for almost everyone, no matter the cost, and those who questioned or even resisted "progress" became the targets of blame, since we too initially benefited from progress after all ... and to hell with the rest. I eventually stopped counting how often I and like-minded others were called dreamers or doomsday-prophets when we pointed out that much of the so-called progress was dangerous and orchestrated by those with an insatiable hunger for more money and more power that disrespected everything else.

Most of us eventually fell silent too but many never forgot and kept hoping that we would be proven wrong. Or, as in my case, took the decision to migrate to a part of the world where nature was still allowed to call the shots in many ways and would do so for a long time to come. I called my move to Namibia in 1987 "turning the clock back by 20 years", hoping to be able to enjoy more of what was important to me, and that I would not be around anymore when the paw-paw would hit the fan. Don't get me wrong here: I'm the last one to wish the "good old times" would return, which were not so hot after all and to advocate for another political order. I too enjoy a certain level of comfort, many of the things that advances in science and technology brought us, and I especially value that I did not have to endure the miseries of war thus far.
What I'm trying to say is: Our warnings a few decades back came true - we over-did it, we blew it! We blew our chances for making this a better world for all and sundry so badly that we are now staring into the face of its and our own destruction!

Does anyone out there, apart from some environmental scientists, REALLY get it already? We are nearing 1 degree global warming NOW, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting NOW at a frightening speed, we see destruction due to violent tornados and earthquakes NOW almost every year, heat waves and floods NOW kill thousands in normally moderate climate zones, .... this is happening while I'm writing this article, not in some perceived future scenario, and this is just the tip of the iceberg!

But there's more that greatly bugs me when I think about the messages in the recent TV broadcast on global warming:
I always held the view that a great deal of the "progress" we saw in the last four to five decades was meant to prepare mankind for major changes in the way we would live our lives in future, be it through the eventual contact with other forms of intelligence in a distant galaxy and/or a collapse of our natural environment forcing us to evacuate earth or to live separated from each other in some sort of protective bubbles. It did not surprise me that a boom in the production of sci-fi films and the invention of computers followed by the Internet coincided with the first clear signs that all was not as well as expected with planet earth. Instead of taking action back then, in the second half of the 20th century, in order to keep the destructive interferences at bay, profits made in the name of progress continued to be pocketed unchecked and at the expense of our environment. It was and still is cheaper for industries to pay fines when caught out polluting than investing into emission reductions, and to gobble up energy made from fossil fuels rather than investing into developing/implementing alternative energy sources.

Those who aired warnings or protested were ridiculed as bunny huggers but ... can anyone truly make head and tails of the fact that the conversion to solar power even just on household level remained unaffordable for most of us? We here in Southern Africa get so much sunshine that we could probably be completely independent by now from fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and other electricity requirements - yet we still battle with ever-increasing energy bills and since fairly recently even with scheduled "load shedding" (power cuts) because the equipment required for the generation of solar power is still further out of reach for people in our developing countries. About 75% of our populations hardly earn enough to make ends meet, most still cook food on open wood fire and use candles or petroleum lamps for lighting, which puts further pressure on nature.

All in the name of progress, I assume... or should we rather call a spade, a spade.... does this all happen only so that some can continue squeezing the last bit of money from the status quo before they take us to a new level of "progress", in all their "wisdom and generosity"? How on earth are people in developing countries supposed to ever overcome poverty and all its nasty side-kicks, if they can't even afford the basics that could help improve hygiene and health, nutrition, and similar?
Aren't the giants now playing the same game with global warming? Are we going to see the same old money-spinning machine activated to safe us from the brink of extinction? Why are we suddenly hearing about big lab tests with fusion power and other research projects aimed at saving Mother Earth that cost millions, if not billions, which might however turn out to be too little, too late? Why will power-saving light bulbs probably become a must while staying more expensive than conventional ones? Why are we still asked to pay more per litre of unleaded car fuel than for standard petrol, if the global warming situation is so critical that now every single human being is called upon to make contributions that could help prevent the worst-case scenario? Are we not going to be made to pay once again for our road to salvation, and to accept getting poorer in the process? For how long still will living a decent life be sold to us as a privilege even though our countries' constitutions and our religions call it a fundamental right?

I don't see myself join the ranks of those who claim that global warming is just another gimmick of the super-powers to make us all develop a collective single-minded conscience so that we can be ruled and manipulated even better than in the past.
I do however foresee a time, where daily life will be much tougher for most of us, on a planet that tries to recover in violent fits from decades of gross abuse, and where the absence of large-scale comfort zones will give us the opportunity to return to valuing basic human and nature's qualities higher than worldly possessions, as our ancestors did. There is in my mind only one way to achieve a truly balanced and thriving global community ... if we all understand and accept that we are an important part of and have to play our roles responsibly in a scheme far greater than we are as individuals, which is called life or nature, but that we are not and never will be its ruler.

As far as I'm concerned, we are about to learn a heavy-handed lesson in humility that will put us back into our place where we belong in nature, which is certainly not at the top of the food-chain and where the odds are equal for all living creatures. We are only able to play top-dog when it comes to applying brain power and intellect consciously, so why did we not use them in every aspect of live to avoid such a nasty situation like global warming? Well, we haven't even managed to eliminate poverty, illnesses, and wars, so I guess it's time to admit that we are not so great and powerful after all!

We would be well advised in finally listening to the RIGHT stuff, to the universal wisdom still found in the last remaining pockets of ancient people, like the Bushmen. They do know everything about living in harmony amongst themselves and with nature, and their respect for its powers is just as great as their skills in making it work in their favour when it comes to survival. They are living proof that humans can make it through the earth's ups and downs and extreme living conditions for tens of thousands of years, and I for one can imagine a time, when Bushmen will once again roam Africa's savannas in growing numbers, long after we modern editions of mankind will have been weeded out by evolution as unfit for having a place on this planet.
I do hope though, before this will happen, that we will finally and very, very soon learn some valuable lessons from those ancient cultures and combine them with the best of modern knowledge and inventions to find fast solutions to the teething global problems staring us into our faces TODAY!

15 January 2008

Why RAIN IS BEAUTIFUL in Namibia...

Well, dear reader, if your are living in the northern hemisphere you might find it just about impossible to mention the words "rain" and "beautiful" in one sentence let alone seeing it that way. For us here in Namibia, in Southern Africa, rain truly is beautiful, absolutely fantastic, and the ultimate treat on a hot summer's day!
You see, we hardly ever talk about "the weather". Why should we with an annual average of 360 days of sunshine and bright blue skies?! But what about the temperatures? you might ask. Who cares?! will be the classic answer of locals ... most of the country usually is very hot to boiling hot in summer, day and night (unless the rains did come), and pleasantly warm during the day in winter but chilly at night, with very brief periods of moderate climate in between summer and winter. And THAT just about covers OUR weather description requirements.

The local viewpoint however changes completely, if there are clouds in the summer sky. Then Namibians become very talkative. The bigger and darker those clouds grow in the course of a day, the more the whispering about "Might rain be on its way?" turns into clearly voiced rain predictions. Mind you, those statements still carry an invisible question mark at the end, as we all know only too well how quickly those clouds can be gone again. It almost seems though as if Namibians believe in the psychic powers of a collective "rain talk" and no-one should be surprised to hear two locals greet each other with "Did you get rain already (better still: as well)?".

There is indeed reason for such hype about rain because Namibia gets so little of it AND because it has got no natural fresh water sources on its surface at all. The few rivers on our borders, - one each shared with South Africa, Angola, Botswana and Zambia -, all originate from outside Namibia and benefit us to only a small extent. Apart from the people living in the remote areas along those rivers, the vast majority of the population depends entirely on rain to provide water fit for human consumption but also for maintaining livestock and wildlife. In order to make it through the long dry season that commonly lasts from April to November there have to be sufficient rain falls in summer in the right places to fill man-made dams and to keep water tables underground at levels suitable for pumping water.

With the climate of all but the coastal and far north-eastern areas being determined by the Namib, the Kalahari, and central highlands in between these deserts it is predominantly arid to semi-arid. This means in layman's terms that the amount of moisture evaporating due to high temperatures and direct exposure to the sun is mostly greater than the amount of moisture replenished from rain falls. Visitors unused to such arid conditions usually feel their effects within a few hours of arrival, with blocked nasal passages and cracking lip skins being the first tell-tale signs. Dismissing the friendly reminders of tour guides and other local contacts to keep drinking as much water each day as one can possibly stomach, 2 liters at least, will result in drowsiness if not hospitalisation due to dehydration.
We locals suffer from such effects too in spite of being accustomed to the prevailing climate conditions to a certain degree and we too have to ensure regular intake of water as well as to spend a small fortune on moisturising body lotions, if we do not want to land up looking like old leather bags at age 40. Our greatest worries by far though at each beginning of summer
are whether there will be enough water again for everything alive to make it through the following year and whether we can maintain the required level of economic productivity, if the rains fail to come. Under Namibian conditions, getting rain directly determines the amount of water available for consumption and therefore ultimately becomes a matter of survival that affects everyone personally.
So that's the downside of having "good" weather almost all the time!

However, with the first rain in the air, - when the wind carries the first sniff of moisture from distant parts of Namibia to you, after months and months of drought -, you know that the promises of the summer clouds came true, at least for someone far away. Instantly, hope rises a notch or two for imminent relief from heat and worries. When you see springbok pronking with the excitement of anticipation; when the fresh shoots and flower buds on your garden plants seem to hold back their final development just a tiny bit longer; when tortoises start searching for higher sleeping spots; and when you yourself and the people around you feel more irritable than usual ... then you know that the precious water is on its way.
Once the clouds above your head become so dense, dark, heavy and threatening that they discharge their load with a mighty jolt of lightning and a roaring thunder, just about everything changes in an instant - from
the mood of all living creatures to the road conditions. Nothing smells better for us locals than the earth that received the first drops of rain. Nothing is better than watching a curtain of rain move towards you and feeling the first rain drops pinch your skin. Nothing sounds better than the rain pounding your house roof and drowning out all other noise. Nothing makes us feel more alive and happy than that very first rain each year that confirms that there will indeed be a future for us, for Namibia!

Of course, if the rainy season turns out to be a really good one, if we get regular rain falls between November and March that truly satisfy the needs, there are a number of side effects to work around. The usual story of life - nothing really good comes without a price tag of sorts ... we all know about that, don't we? It's nothing one couldn't adapt to and learn to live with but nevertheless
one cannot afford to ignore such side effects.
Since the summer season in Namibia also holds some of the most incredible travel experiences for tourists, we will cover both in our Namibia Tourism On-line Guide www.namibia-unlimited.com in greater detail.
If you'd like to whet your appetite, here are a few pointers:
You'll get to see blooming deserts and the picture-perfect contrasts of orange-coloured sand dunes covered in fresh grass growth of the most intense green imaginable against a backdrop of a lilac-tinted sunset sky - in return for having to travel in a 4x4 vehicle instead of a sedan in order to make it to the best spots on our gravel roads. You'll get to see a myriad of off-spring of game species in wildlife reserves, if not them giving birth - but it might take a bit longer to find the animals because the rain made them less dependent from pumped water supplies, i.e. you should plan your trip around the motto "less is more". You might get to experience the awesome transformation of Namibia's appearance when rain makes bone-dry sandy beds of ephemeral water courses turn into wild rivers ... for about an hour or so - but you'll need to be prepared, time-wise and in terms of provisions, to "sit out" the flood on your way to your overnight stop. If you are a keen birder or into insects, there is no better time to visit Namibia than our summer months to observe the exotic African species in great numbers and varieties.

The list goes on and on, and what is fascinating to visitors because it is different from their every-day experiences also fascinates us locals, again and again, not only because Namibia looks even more stunning after each summer downpour than it already does during the dry season but especially because we cannot and do not take the availability of water for granted.

That is why rain is absolutely beautiful in Namibia - and why I decided, after the recent good rain falls and with more on their way, to give honouring this summer's heavenly gift preference over the intended topic for a second article.
We here in Namibia sincerely hope that visitors to the country will join us in the celebrations and take home a growing awareness of the precarious balance in nature that ultimately decides about life and death. Sustainability, in every aspect of life including sustainable tourism activities, can only become reality, if people around the globe recognise the importance and urgency for taking actions towards maintaining that balance which has become frighteningly unstable due to man-made changes to the earth's climate.
In Namibia, one can still see and feel the forces of nature at work everywhere, and nature's inherent powers of rejuvenating itself and all the lifeforms on this planet even under challenging conditions, if given a chance. It is however the collective responsibility of humans to stop depriving nature of that chance.
The future does not start tomorrow, it starts now!

Until next time, take care.

09 January 2008

Namibia - here we go!

Welcome - finally! Willkommen - endlich!

Not one to quickly climb onto new trains rushing down Internet and technology highways, it took me a rather long time to start my own blog. I've READ countless by now while wading through the daily refills of my Inbox but never ever commented on one - so far. For me blogs are (should be) part of an ongoing learning experience and although my reading covers a wide spectrum of topics it still is selective. Quality definitely takes preference over quantity, not to forget about the usual time constraints, and I guess a natural resistance to anything man-made that could be overwhelming has to take third place.

The above also almost summarises the reasons for this blog and how I intend to grow it.
Yes, we will be talking about NAMIBIA only, a fascinatingly beautiful country in south-western Africa, about the UNLIMITED opportunities it provides as a travel destination, your experiences and my experiences with Namibia, your and my questions & comments, etc., etc. - hence the blog name "Namibia Unlimited".

When you post comments, please remember that I want to create a learning experience for everyone interested in Namibia. Let's stick to just that, shall we?!

I'm not going to sell you anything Namibian - I prefer you making up your own picture of the country through the articles to follow,
through contributions of others, and eventually perhaps even through personal experiences. Apart from describing "my" Namibia, I will try to capture the characteristics, the moods, the feeling-aspects of this country, of which it has got plenty.

If you'd like to know what Namibia has got to offer to visitors and in terms of tourist services, you'll find all the hard-core stuff on my Namibia Tourism On-line Guide - which, by the way, is currently developed into the most comprehensive INFORMATION ONLY tourism portal on Namibia. If you'd like to book anything you saw there, you'll have to contact the service provider directly.
And in case you are a tourism trade partner to Namibian service suppliers, you might want to check out the section named "Namibia's Special Selection" - you'll find working tools there just for you, like you've never seen them before.

So much for introductions. I'll soon be in touch again with the background story of what got me here in the first place.

For German speaking readers:
P.S.: Beitr├Ąge in Deutsch sind ebenfalls herzlich willkommen!